One of the things that I have noticed over the years is the toll that solitude takes on some of the elderly members of our society. This is especially visible in the churches. We have legions of women made widows by the relative shortness of their husband’s lives who sing with us each Sunday, fill out the ranks of Sunday School teachers, sit on our church councils and then go home to their houses, alone.
We live in a society that celebrates them for being independent, for not “being a burden” on their families, on their society. They are the success stories of our age, people who have planned and prepared enough to be able to live alone and if you have ever dealt with someone reaching the limits of their ability to live at home and alone, how they rail and strain against having to leave their situation, then you will understand how deeply this ideal is ingrained in us as a people.
I have to confess that I am not at all convinced that this is an unvarnished good. I know that this flies in the face of the American ideal of the independent person, but I am not speaking as an American, I am speaking as a Christian. We have a ministry and a theology of reconciliation and community, in fact reconciliation for the sake of community. We find a way to work together, to seek a path together, to give up a portion of ourselves for the sake of others, and in so doing receive the greatest of all blessings, the blessing of the very presence of Christ, in and through one other: Christ to others in the act of letting them be Christ to you.
This flies in the face of the dominant thinking in America these days. Visit a retirement community and you might think of yourself as visiting an elderly lady preserve, there are so many of them about, each of them in their own home, many of them surviving the loss of family, spouse, community.
It takes a lot of effort, deliberate intention, to overcome that and create a renewal of community and while some places succeed with a lot of their residents, there is always a segment that spends a lot of time alone.
When I hear tales of people spontaneously putting their faith and their love into action and moving against the grain, swimming upstream and creating ad hoc communities on their own, I find myself moved to share the stories.
This past Thanksgiving, three widows and one son gathered together to celebrate the holiday and do so in community. No going out and eating alone, it was home made, it was fellowship, and it was enacted in love and so it was such a greatly blessed thing that it knocked me to my knees.
How can we let this be the exception, the moving story instead of the narrative that draws community out of isolation? Especially in those places where the tendency is toward greater isolation, these things must be done if we are to give to our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, a life worth living and reveling in, a life that is truly abundant.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. ”